I looked out of the small airplane window and I smiled. Then my eyes smiled. Then my ears. Then my chest and my elbows and my hands and my knees and my toes and then all the way back up to my nose, smiled. Euphoria took over my entire body and I wanted to jump out of my seat and dance. I wanted to grab the man sitting near me by the collar and ask him if he even understood how wonderful this was. I wanted to get over the intercom and declare to the entire plane of passengers that I was home.
Earlier, just seeing the words “San Francisco” on the departure screen during my layover in Milwaukee had made me want to burst out of my seams with that kind of joy typically found on the faces of babies discovering that wheels roll. Although I’ve been away from the Golden State many times before, somehow the past four months have been different. Somehow, in the past four months, I’ve become starkly aware of my wildly fervent and lustfully passionate feelings for California. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy D.C., and it’s not that I don’t get excited for each of my new adventures out into the world, it’s just that I’m hopelessly in love. Through all of my trips (and stumbles), my mind always drifts back to her. She’s perfect.
When I left California by car headed east, my dear, sweet Chevy resisted with oil lights dinging and engine putting. My flight back home, in contrast, was the most hassle-free, delightful travel I’ve ever experienced. My flight even got in twenty-five minutes early, allowing me to catch an earlier shuttle to Napa instead of having to twiddle my thumbs for two hours. It was just meant to be.
As I exited the airport, California immediately began to remind me of all of the little things about her that make me melt. It’s seeing solar panels on rooftops. It’s being surrounded again with the simple design of the California license plate. It is the way the fog lightly cradles the Golden Gate Bridge. It is the blue sky over rolling hills. It’s how the air is just the right temperature and you can almost swear it tastes sweet. It’s seeing ripening citrus on neighborhood trees. It is the way the perfect melody instantly finds its way into the background music of your mind. For me, it was even being presented with an abundance of Wells Fargo ATMs immediately upon exiting the plane. It’s the entire atmosphere, the good vibes of the people.
Soon after boarding my bus at the airport, a young man behind me asked if I also happened to be headed to the pharmacy school interviews being held that day. I replied no, but a simple no quickly turned into a spirited conversation about anything and everything, including my gushing rave about California and his admission of the fact that he had only applied to California schools. In the midst of our conversation, the bus driver approached us with a grin and the offering of gummy bears and red licorice. He appeared to be the happiest man who had ever had the privilege to drive a bus. He was that type of person you can tell works with a big heart to put food on the table for a big family.
“Cool, so you two know each other, huh?” the bus driver remarked to us with excitement after observing our dialogue.
We laughed and told him that we had just met.
“Man, right on! I totally love and appreciate that. That’s great — thanks guys! Yeah,” he replied, while nodding his head, walking his way back to the driver’s seat, and assuming that his job to spread cheer to the world was well in motion.
The entire drive, I looked out of the bus window with big eyes. Everything I saw made each of my individual toes and fingers tingle. I was the fleshly representation of a giggle, as if someone was tickling my heart with a feather. California was squeezing her way into each of my dehydrated cells, quickly leaving them plump and energized. I was met at the end of the drive by the familiar face of my grandma and she sealed my sense of home in her welcoming hug.
Since moving out to D.C., I have taken a great interest in the idea of the Californian diaspora. D.C. is generously sprinkled with former Californians and hence, I have had conversations with many. These conversations begin with where in California we are from, dance around the lack of good Mexican food in D.C., start sliding into exclamations of California’s beauty that ever so delicately turn into sounds of longing, and, more times than not, end in the former Californian telling me one of the following:
“I’d move back there in a heartbeat if I could.”
“My ultimate goal is to eventually be back in California.”
“I’ll live there again in a few years.”
“How long have you been in D.C.?,” is often my next question. They look at me with mild exhaustion, but still a hopeful smile on their faces and respond, typically, with one of the following answers:
“I have been here, wow, twenty years now.”
“I’m going on my fifth year.”
The trend is self-evident. And it’s not just in D.C. that this phenomenon occurs. I can think of Californians from New York down to North Carolina just off the top of my head who have hinted of similar sentiment. California is ingrained in our very DNA, but we, of the diaspora, are simply left to tradition each time the planet makes another revolution around the sun — next year, in California.
What more I have concluded, however, is that we are all off in our scattered pods because we are all far too stubborn and value our “open-mindedness” far too much to accept a life of staying in the same place forever. There is an entire world out there to see and to explore and it makes us itch. There are so many people to meet, foods to eat, aromas to smell, to so quickly contain ourselves within the golden borders for all of time. The desire to move and to experience everything we can is too strong to keep us still within her fields of poppies. And so instead, we move around, we follow the adventure, we make a home wherever we rest our heads, but we keep her in our memories. We already know she’s where we want to be, so why not be young and go roam through the rest? She’s always waiting for us when we reach that moment and know it’s time to come home, to plant our feet on her soil, and get our heads right again. And the best part is that we can always count on her to give us a little shake of the earth whenever we’re getting too comfortable, whenever we need to remember our travels.
I love California because she knows I’m not ready yet. Someday, we will be together forever, but we both know that time can’t be now. I have too many wings flapping on my feet to keep me grounded in one place. And so for now, when I can, I’ll just come home to her for a good old-fashioned multi-dimensional cleanse. I’ll wash my body in her chilly Pacific waves and fill my lungs with her cool mountain air. And she knows I don’t just do it for myself, but for the entire Californian diaspora. We have a duty to one another, and so I have many hellos to tell her, many hugs to deliver, for the beautiful, global tribe of California stars.
I know over the next couple of weeks, California will make sure I’m ready for my return to D.C. for a fresh start with a new job in the New Year.